The priest who celebrates a solemn festival Mass is said to “sing” the Mass.
For five years as a priest, I have con-celebrated Midnight Mass on Christmas, standing to the side of the pastor as he celebrated the Mass. This year, the pastor kindly offered to concelebrate with me.
So tonight I will sing Midnight Mass for the first time.
Here is the homily, and may the good Lord give you a merry Christmas!
Christus natus est.
Verbum Dei caro factum est.
Expergiscere homo, quia pro te Deus factus est homo.
…Wait a minute–you didn’t know that the homily would be in Latin?
I wish I could give you a homily in Latin, or in any language that would draw us closer to the holy day and the holy place where our Lord was born of the Virgin Mary.
I am sure you are familiar with just about all the Latin phrases I just used, but there is one sentence that may be unfamiliar. It is from a Christmas homily by St. Augustine.
Expergiscere homo, quia pro te Deus factus est homo. Awake, o man, because for you God has become man.
We have already heard some beautiful Christmas music. But let’s imagine that we are soldiers, and that God is playing reveille. When the sleeping soldier hears the bugle call, he stands up, stands ready.
Why is the Lord waking us up?
Is He waking us up for battle? That’s what reveille might mean to a soldier: Wake up to fight! The bugle of Christmas might be cutting through the torpor of our laziness and timidity to wake us up to fight the devil.
An oppressed people can get accustomed to living under an occupying power. Perhaps the devil has been holding me down for so long that I have gotten used to it. Maybe I have been lulled into submission, and I think that spiritual mediocrity and worldliness is perfectly normal.
If so, then the celebration of the Lord’s birthday is a summons to battle. God is calling us to “put on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation,” as St. Paul puts it. The sound of the bugle is calling us to fight for holiness. Wake up, so that we will serve God better in 2009 than we did in 2008.
…To the soldier, though, the sound of the coronet might also mean something else. If he has been slogging through long combat–if he has been fighting for so long that it all seems like a nightmare that he cannot wake up from—then the trumpet might mean this: Soldier, the battle is over. Lay down your arms. Peace has finally been restored.
On Christmas our thoughts always run to the Holy Land, to Bethlehem. Yesterday they announced in Bethlehem that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, will visit the Holy Land in May.
As we know, the land of our Lord is beset by an interminable war. In this, it is like a lot of other places. It is like a lot of families. It is like a lot of old relationships.
In the Holy Land, the Palestinians and the Israelis have been locked in war for so long that it is hard for anyone to remember how it all started. The list of crimes, injustices, and grievances on both sides is so long that no one could ever hope to make it right. The fighting is like a snowball which started rolling down the mountain a long time ago. No one can stop it; it just keeps getting bigger.
There is a scene in Shakespeare where one swordsman challenges another to a duel. The one who is challenged does not know why the first one wants to fight. So he sends a messenger to ask what the grievance is.
The messenger goes to ask the challenger, and then returns. He says: Your challenger does not remember why he proposed to fight you, but now he insists that he must draw sword against you simply because he vowed to do so when he challenged you in the first place.
Awake, o man, because for you God has become man.
God is waking us up to do battle with the Devil, but He is also waking us up FROM the interminable battle of the sinful world. We are here in church to wake up to this fact: God has come to the world. He has done battle for us. Now we can be at peace with everything that is good.
We cannot make all the wrongs of the world right, but God can. We cannot hope to forgive and forget perfectly, but God does forgive and forget perfectly. He will share that secret with us if we ask Him to.
God became man. He died. He rose again. All for us.
When Christ went to the Cross, justice and mercy met and embraced. God has done the reconciling; God has made things right. The Blood of Christ washes away the wrongs and crimes and grievances of the world. We all had wronged God, but God made amends for it all.
We can start fresh again today, dear brothers and sisters. We can be friends with God and with each other.
Wake up, stand ready, and rejoice in the holiness of God!